The God of Large and Small
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The God of Large and Small

The God of Large and Small

My day in traffic court.

by

I was driving northbound on Hamilton Ave. en route to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. I've taken the route hundreds of times. But instead of veering left into the lane for the tunnel, I decided to swerve right – into the lane headed for the Brooklyn Bridge. And there he was.

“Okay buddy, pull over here,” he seemed to be saying with his dramatic hand movements. He was short for a cop; a bit stocky, and very animated.

“License, registration and insurance card,” he demanded.

I do not enjoy being pulled over by a law enforcement officer. It falls somewhere between toenail fungus and sea sickness on my “Must Experience” list. I’m not sure if I attempted some lame, incoherent muttering explaining why I crossed that dreaded SOLID WHITE LINE, but I am sure that it made no impact on Officer Stankowski.

“The instructions are on the back,” he kindly informed me while handing me the yellow summons. “Have a nice day.”

I got out of the car and took pictures of the crime scene area. I had no idea why I was doing it.

During the five minutes or so that he took to write the ticket, I got out of the car and took pictures of the pavement markings and signs posted in the crime scene area. It was something I had seen others do, but never done before myself. I had no idea why I was doing it, but it seemed like my only way to express my innocence to Stankowski. “If I’m taking pictures, then I MUST not be guilty.” Don’t worry. It made no sense to me either.

In the ensuing months I made the usual inquiries of friends, some of them attorneys, to help craft and strategize my approach to the infraction. One avenue was clearly consensual: “Push this off as long as you can. You never know what could happen.”

  • Police officers move out of town, get transferred, or run for District Attorney or other such positions all the time.
  • Maybe the law will change.
  • Nuclear war could beckon.

Dutifully, I cooperated. Nearly a full year went past, but, my luck, the World remained at relative peace. That meant that April 8th was D-Day.

Related Article: How To Get Your Prayers Answered

My Secret Weapon

The sun shone brightly that Friday morning. I trimmed the beard and chose a dark tie. Stomach in flutters, I skipped breakfast. I drove (very carefully) to the courthouse and saw my name on the hearing ledger taped to the wall next to Room 5. The paint was peeling. There was no smell. I was early. I’m never early.

I guess a lot of people were early, as most of the seats were already occupied by my fellow defendants. They peered at me as I walked in. They knew I was innocent, as much as I knew the same about them. It’s like a club, these hearing rooms, with new members joining every few hours. “It’s us against the cops. How dare they pronounce us guilty until proven innocent! It’s anti-American. We will band together and we WILL defeat them!”

Right.

In walked the enemy. A group of six or seven uniformed officers in full regalia – as if they were actually setting out to real combat. It seemed unfair. Stankowski, in knee-high boots, oversized revolver, gleaming badges and medals, and perfectly pressed slacks versus Salomon…in the dark tie.

But unbeknownst to the prosecution, Salomon had brought a secret weapon– a manila envelope containing copies of Section 3A.01 of the MUTCD. Not familiar with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices? Neither was I, until my research uncovered that the “Bible” of Traffic Law indicated that (read carefully), “A SOLID line usually indicates that crossing the line is discouraged. It goes on to explain that there are actually different widths of solid lines that suggest different levels of restriction. And, according to the pictures that I (so brilliantly) took, that solid line that I crossed could have been construed as very crossable, thank you.

The first case involved a woman charged with driving while talking on her cell phone. She totally denied it – patently and emphatically. It was basically her word against the cop.

“Guilty as charged!” bellowed the judge. “One hundred and forty dollars plus two points on your license. No appeals allowed. See the clerk. Next!”

A pall fell over the gallery.  The club members were distraught. How was that justified?

The next brother was called. Unsafe lane change was his alleged violation. The arguments were spirited on both sides, with my new comrade making a strong case for how the traffic pattern demanded that he switch lanes at that time.

“Guilty as charged!” bellowed the judge. “One hundred and forty dollars plus two points on your license. No appeals allowed. See the clerk. Next!”

At this point I was happy that I had skipped breakfast, as a dour sensation of sudden nausea invaded my digestive tract. I held on to my manila envelope extra tight, but began to question its potential influence.

Two more sisters followed – both with cell phone violations issued by different officers. The verdicts were of similar ilk. They shuffled out of the courtroom pale, with heads bowed and wallets opened. (One of the sisters also had a manila envelope.)

I started feeling a bit light-headed and a slight quiver emerged on my bottom lip.

Wow, I thought, I am really nervous about this thing. How absurd is that?

I found myself in touch with my deepening tension and anxiety and I began to feel…well… embarrassed.

What’s the big deal? It’s only a traffic ticket! And just because you already have two points on your license, that’s a reason to panic? Nausea? Quiver? IT’S ONLY TRAFFIC COURT, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!

Stankowski – even in his boots – was no match for the Almighty.

And then, instinctively, I actually began to pray – yes…pray. I said some Psalms by heart and spoke to God – asking for his intervention. Stankowski – even in his boots – was no match for the Almighty, I reasoned.

The gallery was slowly starting to empty. The next victim…er…accused, was an older gentleman. He looked so sweet and yes, innocent. I couldn’t hear too many of the details, but one part came through loud and clear.

“Guilty as charged! One hundred and forty dollars plus two points on your license. No appeals allowed. See the clerk. Next!”

That thud you heard was the lump that egressed in my larynx.

Now I was sweating and intensifying my prayers. It was clear to me that without some kind of supernal assistance I would be on line at the cashier in just a few minutes. But as my entreaties were compounding, so too was my shame.

This is what you pray for? This? Do you think God has time for such trivialities? World hunger, terrorism, apostasy, apathy, disease, abuse are all rampant. And you’re worried about two points on your license and a few dollars? What has gotten into you??

What kind of self-respecting person would feel compelled by terror in Traffic Court to pray to God for salvation? But, on the other hand, just as there is no such thing as “too big” for God, there is no concept of “too small” either. It’s not as if God is too tied up with the really important stuff, so He can't attend to the trifle details of our lives. That would imply human-like restriction to the All Powerful.

The same way we make a blessing on a 32 oz. filet mignon, we also recite a blessing before a tiny cup of water. In fact, it is actually the very same blessing that we make on both. My praying to Him when serious illness crosses my earshot in no way precludes my praying when Stankowski looms before me.

Armed with my new artillery, I clutched that manila envelope ever so snugly, closed my eyes, and freely asked God for help.

Seconds later we stood before the judge. A surprising calm descended. The nausea was gone. My voice trembled just a bit when I pleaded, “Not guilty,” but I felt ready to accept His decision. I looked to my right. There stood Stankowski. He was ruffling through his papers.

The judge asked if he was ready to proceed. Stankowski continued to ruffle. Now his feet were shuffling too. I thought I detected a bead of sweat or perhaps a hair skid out of place.

“Officer Stankowski – are you ready to proceed?”

Silence. Now he was shaking his head. A couple of summonses fell to the floor. He bent down to retrieve them.

“Your honor, I…er…I cannot seem to locate the ticket or my notes on this case.

I thought my legs were going to leave their sockets.

“If you cannot proceed, I will have no choice but to dismiss these charges.”

Stankowski was done and he knew it. He pretended to continue his search for the missing documents, but it was to no avail.

“I’m sorry. I cannot find anything on this violation.”

“All right then. Let the record state that I am entering a verdict of ‘Not guilty.’ No points or fine are assessed. You are free to go.”

I thanked the judge and wobbled away.

On the way out, I did three things. First, I glanced over at the remaining fraternity members and smiled. They gave me lots of thumbs up and lots of smiles. One brother pointed to heaven…really.

Second, I said a prayer of thanks. I apologized for my overreaction, but acknowledged that He is truly the God of large and small.

And finally, I tossed that manila envelope in the trash bin.

Published: July 2, 2011


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Visitor Comments: 50

(35) Neicee, July 26, 2011 8:22 PM

Lesson learned

I thoroughly enjoyed the article. Nice to know that other adults suffer moments of "what was I thinking?" We've all had them, hopefully learning the lesson that we don't care to repeat the experience again. I wake up while it's still dark to greet the day, watching the sun come up and thanking our Creator for such a lovely moment. I continue to talk to Him throughout the day which provides great comfort.

(34) Anonymous, July 12, 2011 7:31 PM

This is one of the most inspiring and educative article I have read recently. Thank you Rabbi.

(33) Sally, July 12, 2011 3:38 PM

Well done, I enjoyed this article. Like you, I realize that there is nothing to small or large to bring to G-d.

(32) Anonymous, July 8, 2011 2:08 AM

Nothing to big or to little for G-d

When you are standing in front of the judge, everything is big. If one believes, he prays to G-d for everything. No one likes to be embarrassed.

(31) Mati, July 6, 2011 3:50 PM

G-d vs. the U.S.

I was riding my bicyle to the bus terminal today and I chose to cut through the federal building parking lot. A uniformed man stopped me to tell me that I cannot ride my bike in the parking lot. "Ok, I'll ride around the building," I said to him and with the exit just 10 feet away, started to ride my bike outside the parking lot. The "I am power" man then reached one hand on his mike ready to call for help, the other on his pistol then yelled, "I said get off your bike." What a little man," I thought as I got off my bike and walked it the 10 feet to the exit ramp to the street. A similar thing happend to me when I was riding my bike on the Texas Tech University campus sidewalks (an illegal thing to do). It's uniformed man stopped me and informed me that it was illegal and I had to ride on the road and must observe all the street signs like a motored vehicle. The "I am power" man then asked me if I was on campus to steal something." Shocked, I replied, "No I am an alum and I am seeing what is new on campus." Because the Kampus Kop (as the students call them) actually followed me until I left campus to insure I rode on the road, stopped at every stop sign, and used turn signals when I turned, I rode very cautiously otherwise the citation he would give me would be on my record as DRIVING violations even though I am only on a bicycle. I think that the US has lost site of G-d and law. So many times I have heard from Xtians that Jews are legalistic, and so many times Xtians have oppressed me with legalism. We need to pray that the US government repent from its direction of Nazi-like oppression to its own people.

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